(By Estera Popowska)
In what would mark the first visit by the US top diplomat to Russia since the Ukraine crisis erupted last April, US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to hold talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin Tuesday.
According to reports, the meeting in Sochi takes place as signs emerge that Moscow and the West may be ready for a detente after more than a year of tensions over Ukraine, where relations between Moscow and Washington reportedly plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War.
AFP reported that Russian president Putin has refused to budge on Ukraine, where he is accused of sending troops to support separatist rebels, but has signalled his readiness to mend ties with Washington and Brussels as Russia chafes under the burden of biting Western sanctions.
The US State Department said Monday that Kerry would meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Putin, who is spending the week at his summer residence in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
"This trip is part of our ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure US views are clearly conveyed," said spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to immediately confirm that Kerry would meet the president during his first visit to Russia in two years, but the foreign ministry confirmed the American's meeting with Lavrov.
"We expect that Secretary of State Kerry's visit to Russia will serve the normalisation of bilateral ties on which global stability depends to a large extent," the ministry said.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the two ministers would discuss the implementation of the shaky ceasefire deal that took effect in eastern Ukraine in February as well as conflicts in the Middle East, adding tat they were not expected to discuss US sanctions on Russia.
Kerry's high-stakes visit comes as Russia appears to have put the worst of the fallout from the Ukraine crisis behind it, with the rouble rebounding somewhat and Putin still immensely popular at home (AFP).